Thursday, January 31, 2013

Something Understood

Mark Tully in conversation with James Alison

BBC Radio 4, Something Understood, Christmas Eve 2006

[approx 12 mins in]

MT - There is a very real danger, I believe, in the many ways Jesus is described now. It’s the danger that they lead us to believe that the churches’ traditional way of seeing Jesus is totally out of date, rendered unsustainable by modern knowledge. James Alison is a Roman Catholic priest and theologian who warns against this in his answer to the question, “Who do you say Jesus is?”

JA – I want to give what I think is both the right answer, and my answer, so I’m going to say that Jesus is Yahweh – that’s what I understand when we say “Jesus is Lord” – we’re actually saying that Yahweh has come among us, the God of Israel who is referred to by that name, and yes, this is something that was promised in the Hebrew scriptures.

MT – And how then do we react to this?

JA – Well, and I think that’s the key issue when we’re discussing what’s meant by the Incarnation: to what extent, for us, is the life and death of this person, this human being, Jesus of Nazareth, the criterion for God – in other words, to what extent is this ‘elsewhere-getting-through-to-us’ rather than our projection onto this person? And that seems to me to be the key thing that, if you like, the word ‘incarnation’ is protecting, is ‘hedging round’, is the ‘criterion-from-elsewhere’ quality of this person. I just want to say of course that it’s very difficult for us to imagine – we, as human beings, we have human criteria for everything: we have no way of talking that is not our way of talking, all our images are our images, they’re derived from being this sort of animal, who lives under these social circumstances, formed and brought up in this sort of way, and so on and so forth. So the very idea that someone who is not one of us might be speaking to us from the position of not being one of us is something which, in principle, is very very difficult to understand. And so that’s, as I understand it, both the richness and the difficulty, you know, of Christian life and meditation and theology surrounding the Incarnation: how do we keep alive the sense of Jesus being ‘God’s criterion’ given our tendency to close down criteria and make them ours.

MT – And how do we keep it open in this way then?

JA – Well mostly, I would say, ecclesially. I think that when it works at its best, which is maybe more often than we think but not as often as any of us would like, the function of the church and doctrines is to be a sign of this otherness coming towards us.

MT – So you wouldn’t agree with the piece of literature which we’re reading here in which it’s said that Jesus has been “‘shut up’ in canonised Scriptures and the denominational religions” and needs to be released from that? [Referring to earlier reading from Diarmuid O’Murchu, Catching up with Jesus]

JA – Well, certainly not entirely, because very often the canonical Scriptures serve as ‘hedges’ to remind us that actually, this is not something that is under our control. The moment that it is something that is under our control then it’s no longer what was being told us in the first place. And unless we have some reminders of that, then my fear is that if you like, letting Jesus ‘out’ will merely mean making him much more like who we are now – and that merely means, once again, we are our own criterion, and we have a sad record as human beings for demonstrating what our criterion is – usually murder and mayhem…

MT – In some ways you’re saying the danger of forgetting the canonical Scriptures and the church and all its traditions and things is that we will create Jesus in our own image.

JA – We cannot help but create Jesus in our own image, because all our knowledge, always, is projective, as humans – I think that this is simply part of who we are. What is very difficult, therefore, is to allow ourselves to be ‘broken out of’ our own reflexive criteria – and that is why, it seems to me, there is an important space for, precisely, those, if you like, ‘monuments’ to ‘something-else-happening-here’ which is what, I think, the text of Scripture and, and the doctrinal crystallisations, at their very best, serve to do – they serve to say, ‘if you step over here and make this too tame, you will end up only with yourself’.

MT – Does it concern you that there are such varied interpretations now of who Jesus was?

JA – No, not really. I mean, I think that there always have been, and always will be, such interpretations. What does worry me is when people give such short shrift to the ancient ways of understanding. For instance the whole way of understanding God in debates in modern philosophy, at least in English-speaking countries, finds it very difficult to understand the basic premises of ancient discussions about God such as you find in Aquinas and earlier amongst the Arabic commentators, al-Ghazali and people like that, which understand very clearly, as would any ancient Jewish commentator, that when you’re talking about God you’re talking about someone who is much closer to being like ‘nothing at all’ than ‘something that is’. In other words, is not in rivalry with anything that is. Now, to modern ears, that sounds like atheism – and yet, it’s the necessary realisation – it’s the necessary complement, to understanding that it is we who are functions of God and not God a function of us, that God is not in the order of existing things.

Transcribed by Blair Hunwick, England.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

What am I to do?

Suddenly, I find myself very busy. Life at the parish is bursting with activity and I'm always doing some planning for the future, but finding time for myself is important. If I live well and am happy, it is an attractive Gospel quality. People are drawn to happy people who say yes to invitations. Here are a few invitations I have accepted recently:

I was accepted as a singer into Dozan wa Awtar, a Jordanian-based chorale group that performs a range of secular and sacred music from Byzantine hymns, chorale classics of Western music to contemporary Islamic anasheed. The group has performed international folks songs, Broadway hits, and popular music of many languages. Rehearsals will be strenuous - meeting on Monday and Wednesday nights from Feb. 1 through mid-April.

I'm also conducting the parish choir. I am impressed with the dedication of many of these parishioners who put themselves out there each week to learn new songs to them. Most of them are classic English-speaking songs, but they now have the chords - and the motivation to stretch themselves. Liturgy and music planning requires a great deal of time and thought. With our church using the Orthodox calendar, it makes the planning even more precise. It is also stretching me to be a conductor and music instructor. How I wish I had musical training as a boy.

I also signed up for an art class and had my first instruction yesterday. I was surprised with the mathematical formulas needed for art. To even draw a basic square in various positions required mathematical principles. How interesting. I can't wait to begin my homework because it will feel like I'm actually doing something artistic, but I know it will require a valuable input of time. I was excited about the class. I wish I had taken at least one art class in high school or college so I could learn principles.

When I left the class, I saw a store that has stamping supplies. A friend of mine in Boston, Marybeth, is an avid stamper. She has taught me how to do it though she is far superior, but it is fun. If I can start with a modest supply, I can have a small gathering for parishioners to enjoy. I thought it was unusual to find a store like this in Amman. Every new corner has possibilities.

A friend just gave me a ukulele. It is a hoot. I'm learning a few chords so I can make a couple quick ditties with them. Maybe we can have a talent night at the parish sometime. The ukulele will be fun. Maybe I'll invest in a basic guitar so I can pick up a few more chords.

My life wont' be complete without reading. The problem is that I am reading about five books at the same time. At the same time, I've got periodicals and the internet to read each day. I've been given a number of interesting books to read and I just have to be more diligent with them because they are all revelatory or relaxing.

Then, of course, I want to do some level of exercise each day - even if it means getting our for an hour's walk. Fortunately, listening to music makes me walk further.

I love my camera and I have a lot to learn about photography. I want to take some of my photos and make them into a booklet. I have to figure out a theme for a book. I have a range of photos and a range of ideas. I need to settle on one and just begin.

I also want to make some headway on a spirituality booklet that I have been considering. I've compiled many thoughts and placed them into a template. I need the inspiration to give it a go. I have three themes to advance. What will it take for me to start writing these?

Additionally, I have my blog to write and maintain each week. It is a terrific discipline and I'm told by many it is helpful. I have about 125 people on average checking it out each day and I just passed the 200,000 views thresh-hold.

And my fascination with complex jigsaw and crossword puzzles.

Then of course I have a busy parish life and its many activities, and lastly there is:


I should say firstly there is prayer. It is especially rich to pray while in the Holy Land in a kingdom and region of Muslims with a Jewish state to our west.

I want more than ever to help the parishioners develop a life of prayer that is based on the person of Jesus in a relational way. I'll be offering my first guided meditation in a couple of weeks.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Easter Music

I'm having a very pleasant morning doing some basic chores on this Christian Sabbath day. In fact, I'm listening to Easter music as I'm trying to plan our liturgies. Christmas is barely past and I'm immersed in Easter music.

The music is from the Immaculate Conception Basilica in Washington, D.C. It is great to listen to the trumpets, organ, and trained voices. One of my favorites from Messiah is "Thanks be to God." I feel uplifted.

My parish is part of the diocese of Jerusalem and the churches in Jerusalem are celebrating Lent according to the Roman rite because of the extensive travel of pilgrims. However, Amman is celebrating in union with the Orthodox church - the only section of the diocese in the world that is doing this. It is unusual this year because the Western Easter is early - March 31st and the Orthodox Easter is late - May 5th.

We are doing it to show unity between the two churches and so that we don't confuse neighboring Muslims. I'm not sure why presenting one face to the Muslims is a big concern for us here. I just don't think they care and if they do, it is an opportunity to educate them on our similarities and differences. It does create a problem for the transitory Christian community that passes through Amman. Jordan has a great deal of tourism and travelers. We are all confused with this five week separation this year, but alas, next year we will be on the same calendar.

Anyways, it is pleasant to listen to Resurrection music.

Now, I have to return to liturgy planning. A thankless task.

Saturday, January 26, 2013


I finished my U.S. tube of Sensodyne toothpaste yesterday and tried the one I bought in Jordan. The zesty, frothy mixture of the U.S. brand does not compare to the listless, flat paste from the same company. Oh, well. I need my flouride because it is not added to the water system. The taste is the same. I just have to use more of it.

It is the end of January and flowers are popping up all over the place. Today was 66 Fahrenheit, if not warmer. I had to take off my jacket because I was already perspiring as I walked in the mid-day sun.

I visited Our Lady of Peace center, which is a facility that serves the young disabled population of Amman. Children between 6 and 12 come to the center for vocational, occupational, electro- and hydro-therapy. It is a clean, wide-open facility with a nearby church. It is quite a well-managed place although there is not a steady, reliable source of funds. However, they meet payroll each month - miraculously.

I enjoyed meeting the priest there. He was kind to us and very hospitable. He is from a Madaba family and welcomes the fraternity of other priests. I may hold retreats at his place. It nestled in a forest and is very quiet. I yearn for quiet.

I passed by a golf driving range. I've got to check it out. I also want to check out the prices of the nearby golf course. Right now the fairways are green because scant amounts of grass popped up all over Jordan because of the winter rains. I wonder what it will be like in June and July. It is not a popular sport here so it might be a reasonable price for 18 holes. It could be good relaxation and sport.

I auditioned today at Dozan Wa Atwar, a choral group that performs Arabic and Classical choral music. I'm glad to find such a location. My audition did not take long and I will hear later this week if I am accepted. From what I can tell, the date of the spring concert has not been set. It might be a fun way to learn Arabic words and to meet people from a different slice of life. I'm open for it.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Happy Australia Day - January 26th

Australia Day is an official public holiday in every state and territory of Australia, It commentates the day in 1788 when Captain Arthur Phillip, commander of the First Fleet of eleven convict ships from Great Britain and the first governor of New South Wales, arrived at Sydney Cove. The raising of the Union Jack there symbolized British occupation of the eastern half of the continent claimed by Captain James Cook on in 1770.

Some immigrants who prospered in Sydney, especially those who had been convicts or the sons of convicts, began marking the colony's beginnings with an anniversary dinner - 'an emancipist' festival. Governor Lachlan Macquarie, the emancipists' friend, made the thirtieth anniversary of the day in 1818 a public holiday, thirty guns counting out the years of British civilization, a tradition Macquarie's successors continued.

There have been significant protests from the Indigenous Australian community who view the day as a celebration of the destruction of Indigenous culture by British colonialism. There have been many proposals to change the date of Australia Day to other dates, but none have succeeded to date

One of the special celebratory dishes that the locals enjoy on this national holiday is Kangaroo Pie. Kangaroo meat was legalized for human consumption in South Australia in 1980, and in all other Australian states in 1993 availability, Although consumption in Australia is becoming more widespread., only 14.5% of Australians were reported in 2008 as eating kangaroo meat at least four times per year. Many Australian supermarkets now stock various cuts of kangaroo including fillets, steaks, minced (ground meat and 'kanga bangas' (kangaroo sausages). and it is is exported to over 55 countries worldwide, and has become very popular in Germany and France. Kangaroo Meat has a much stronger taste than beef and similar in taste to venison, Many locals prefer 'minced roo.' One of the more popular recipes for 'minced roo' is Kangaroo Pie. In the United States, kangaroo meat can be ordered from Marx PO Box 540 Atlantic Highlands, NJ 07716 1-866-588-MARX (6279)

Enjoy this tasty down under treat specialty while viewing Kangaroo Jack (2003) about kangaroo that runs away with $50,000 of mob money.


Kangaroo Pie


1 lb Kangaroo meat, ground
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup beef stock
1 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup tomato sauce,
1 pinch nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 TB flour
1 frozen pie crust, thawed.
1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 egg


1.  Sauté the meat  onion in a frying pan until brown. Add the meat stock, peas, tomato sauce and seasonings. Stir and simmer for
     10 minutes. Stir in blended flour and thicken mixture. Allow to cool.
2.  Put crust in pie pan. Spoon in the cold meat mixture into crust . Dampen edges of crust with water Top the pie with puff pastry,
     pressing down gently to seal the edges together.
3.  Trim and pinch the edges, brush pastry top with lightly beaten egg and make a small slash in the centre of the pastry. Bake at 450º
     F for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350º F and bake a further 30 minutes. 

Serves 2


I have developed a practice over the years to comment on every posting or to reply to every email. I developed this practice in Theology Studies as I imitated my Rector (superior.) I noticed he would reply to every email, even if just to say "thank you." It acknowledged they he saw and read the email and he validated me with his response. I found it very thoughtful because it always closed the loop. It assured me that the sentence was complete. Period. I liked that closure.

I really liked my Rector's style. Above all, we theology students knew he cared for us.

I do the same with my emails and blog postings. It acknowledges to the person that I saw their reply. If a person is thoughtful enough to post, I want to be considerate enough to validate their good efforts. It seems to work for me. It furthers the conversation and keeps dialogue going.

Even on Facebook, if someone comments on something, I'll acknowledge it with a "Like," especially if I am not able to reply with a fuller comment. It is just a practice I've continued.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Return to Amman

I left Jerusalem the other day and braced myself for a long day when I'd have to spend time languishing through security. It was uneventful and efficient.

I was curious about returning to Jordan. Did I now consider it home? I wanted to sleep in my own  bed and have access to my possessions, but did I consider it home yet? I feel a little like a man without a home.

I find myself more accepting of the style of people. I was greeted by our cook who serves as a driver. He face was beaming when he saw me. I was glad to see him. We had a nice conversation in our broken languages.

I have navigated through an Arabic and a Hebrew speaking world successfully. I'm doing all right.

I was glad to see everyone in the community and the Jesuit Center. I really was. I was able to recognize that the people in Jordan are loud, and though I don't like it, I can accept it and find my places for quiet. It doesn't disturb me, but remains a curiosity. It is tested though when I have a bug (like the 48 hour one I'm suffering with now.) I just have to hibernate when people are around.

On my first night back I had dinner with a priest friend of mine and a parishioner friend. They are both sweethearts. I enjoy them and like to spend time with them. We ate at a fine and inexpensive Italian restaurant called Romero's. I'll go back. On a Monday night, all the seats were filled.

So, my trip to Jerusalem connected me to the larger Jesuit world. I like that. I feel connected with my brothers in Jerusalem and event with what is going on in Rome. The world seems a little larger, which I need once in a while.

Life in Jerusalem was much easier than in Jordan. I find it difficult to do just about anything here and my skills as a spiritual director tell me not to push too hard. When one is working too hard, you have to step back and ease up. In some ways, it is disappointing. I would like to bring spirituality and scripture study to the parish and follow through on some objectives, but most parishioners want life as it has been over the past two decades. I want more for them and for me so it is a great balancing act.

I think the trip taught me to take care of my interests and see what develops. I'm close to finding a choral group in which to sing, I'll begin art classes next week, and I'm going to work on decorating my space with plants and paintings. If I can enjoy my space and my life, maybe others will want to do more with theirs. It is leading by personal example rather than trying to lead others to where I want them to go. The shepherd only has so much control.

The analogy of jigsaw puzzle fits well what I am doing. It takes time to get everything sorted out and to build the frame, but once people begin to see the image emerge they will join in and participate.

At least it is beautiful to sit on the roof deck and read each morning. Just breathing in the morning air is invigorating. Once my bug leaves me (which I suspect will be over tomorrow), I'll be in good spirits.

Soon I'll write about what Jerusalem did to my faith, but I'll need some time for that.

Pray for the refugees.

Pray for the Israeli and Jordanian elections. Pray for peace. Be assured of my prayers for you.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Ramparts

Today I met a friend's friend, Dr. Roberta, from Germany and we toured the Russian Compound on the Sabbath. It was quite eery - just like last night. We wanted to see the areas, but I wasn't really dressed properly in a bright red hat and corduroy shirt. Dr. Roberta wore western clothing as well. As we were leaving the compound we saw instructions posted on the wall about wearing proper clothing when walking through the area.

The attire is quite a throwback. The costumes are Russian in origin and are quite fantastic. I can see why people would find it interesting to dress in that way because it radiates strength and identity. People were basically out for strolls. Many crowded the Western Wall and others were just walking through the neighborhoods. They carried nothing. Women did not carry purses and men had nothing in their arms. They often walked with arms folded.

I understand that children begin studying the Torah at age three and when they are older they continue only their religious studies. They do not attend school the way most Israelis do. Families are large and parents do not work because their job is to study. The State pays for their welfare. I need to learn a little more about the various strains of Judaism. It is quite fascinating.

Dr. Roberta's foot was stepped on by this one man. They are not to touch goyim, but he did step on her foot and then looked in disdain at her clothing. He did not speak to us - except through his facial expressions. Shortly afterwards a young boy started uttering: pow, pow, pow, pow. There's an undercurrent of anger in this community. They also do not mix well with the contemporary Jewish society.

I can empathize with a group that retains traditions. It rejects the world though and it doesn't try to reconcile with the society around them. Families remain tight and a young person cannot leave the community. The family will have a burial service for the person who leaves.

Roberta and I had coffee at Aroma. It was difficult to find a coffeehouse on a Sabbath, but it was very nice. We lunched at the Jesuit residence.

We planned to take the southern route on the outskirts of the Old City, but instead we hiked the ramparts from Damascus Gate to Lion's Gate. The bird's eye view was terrific. We were unencumbered by merchants and we walked at a leisurely pace. The setting sun was an excellent backdrop being at the Lion's Gate right above the Arab cemetery.

After I left Roberta near her hotel, I scooted back to the game shop on Ben Yehuda. I was interested in purchasing two 2,000 piece jigsaw puzzles for the community, but they were still closed.

Jordan tomorrow celebrates the birthday of the prophet. It becomes a national holiday. It is time to return to Amman.

To see photos of my day, click on the link below:

1. Pics of the Concathedral of the Latin Patriarch
2. Pics of O'er the Ramparts we watched
3. Pics of The Ramparts to the Lion's Gate

Friday, January 18, 2013

Sabbath's Eve

This morning, I thought I would take the souther route from the Pontifical Biblical Institute towards the Old City. Interesting buildings dot this route. I was waylaid as I detoured onto the Artist's Walk, with European-styled apartments and walkways set in a park. It was fascinating to see the use of space. I think I should have been an urban designer. It took 1.5 hours and I returned in time to see off Fr. Jose Maria.

I told him about the Terrace of the Kings of Spain. He wanted to see it and it was only 10 minutes by foot, so I took him. He was so pleased. He made it back in time for lunch and his departure to Rome. I enjoyed his company.

On the way back I entered the King David Hotel. It is known as the most prestigious in Jerusalem. Perhaps it is, but it seemed rather basic to me. It has been there for a long time. I then walked across the street to the YMCA. It was also very nice. A man from Montclair, New Jersey built it as a place of peace in 1934.

Some of the vendors and taxi cab drivers are tiring. I am very honest with them from the start. I tell them I am not interested, but they keep asking questions to find a way to convince me otherwise. I respond by telling them that I will answer their question, but my answer is still "no" and will be "no" by the end of the conversation. They are boundary bullies.

After lunch I took a shortcut to Ben Yahuda, but I got lost without a Baedeker. I made it too late to the shop where I wanted to buy a jigsaw puzzle. I enjoyed getting lost, but as the sun was beginning to set, the landscape changed considerably as people prepared for the Sabbath.

I was far from my tourist home and I kept going deeper into darkened, more run-down sections of town. I could not see any cityscape so I had to guess where the sun was setting and walk in the other direction. For a while, the place was like a ghost town.

I realized I wandered into a conservative Ashkenazi neighborhood. Men who round furry hats that were quite funny-looking, but they were well dressed. Women were nicely dressed in their dark colors. It really gave me a sense of the seriousness of their worship. Often families were together. Everything was impressive in its own right and it reveals to me how little I know of the Jewish faith. I know little of the Islamic faith.

Many of the poorer people didn't have the same religious observances. I don't think they feel terribly welcome.

I wonder why all three major religions like to dress in ancient attire. Somehow it makes us feel connected. The fashions are great, but they seem like external manifestations of an internal reality.

I was exhausted when I came back and I had to prepare to say Mass. This is the beginning of the octave of Christian unity. I offered Mass for a friend from Cambridge who lost her brother a year ago at the end of January and for his wife who is struggling.

Isn't it magical how a shower invigorates the body. After dragging myself there, I had new speed and energy for the rest of the evening.

Earlier in the week I saw the movies Argo and Arbitrage. I enjoyed Arbitrage much more. I've yet to see Lincoln.

Oh, yes. I saw a man with a New England Patriots hat. I said, "Go Pats." He lit up and gave me a high five.

Paul-Émile Botta,  (born Dec. 6, 1802, Turin, Piedmont [Italy]—died March 29, 1870, Achères, France), French consul and archaeologist whose momentous discovery of the palace of the Assyrian king Sargon II at Dur Sharrukin (modern Khorsabad), Iraq, in 1843, initiated the large-scale field archaeology of ancient Mesopotamia.

To see photos of my day, click on the link below:

1. Pics of Paul Emile Botta Part 1
2. Pics of Paul Emile Botta Part 2
2. Pics of A Walk to the Latin Patriarchate

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Changeable Moments

I awoke this morning with great enthusiasm for the day as everything seemed fresh. I went to Ben Yehuda shopping district to take some photos. I didn't take many because I felt intrusive even though many others had cameras.

I quickly began to compare Jerusalem to Amman to the U.S.A. I enjoyed seeing the signs for the Irish pubs and Guinness. It seems natural to have alcohol advertised as a complement to a meal. I am not much of a drinker but I realized that Jerusalem feels like a much easier place to live than Amman. Alcohol is forbidden for Muslims, though they do drink.

I stopped by an art gallery because I was attracted to the bright colors. I chatted with the vendor
for a while and I considered the possibilities of having bright artwork at the Jesuit Center in Amman. We are devoid of color.

The streets near the Jesuit house are filled with artist galleries. I wanted to enter them because we really don't have much artwork in Amman. I'm not a fan of Bedouin art even though they do have a certain flare and beauty in their own right. It just is not my taste. I just wanted to look.

I must frustrate vendors because they are in business to make a sale. I'm not in a position to buy. I am interested in ideas of making art. I felt enlivened to walk around and just glance, while making sure people knew I would not purchase anything. It is easier to avoid going into galleries because sellers will try very many ways to hook you in their pursuit of a sale. The concept of freedom doesn't factor into their day.

As I walked along, I regretted wearing a jacket. I had to talk it off because I perspired too much. 

Here are some of my observations on the day: Freedom is important. Though I have flexibility in Amman, I realize the many ways I feel culturally restricted.

Amman just doesn't have great variety of shops or restaurants. You can find one of two burger joints while there are dozens in Jerusalem. Amman has a few indoor malls that are nice, but the nicer shops are accessible in only well-to-do neighborhoods.

The people of Jerusalem have happier eyes. They seem to enjoy life and have faces of contentment. There is much less noise and blaring car horns. Jerusalem has a leisure class while Amman's is hidden. I think Ammanites go elsewhere for their leisure.

A leisure class society needs wide open spaces and parks. Central Park in NYC is a haven for thousands of people each day. People need a place where they can go and relax. It has to be clean and have shades of beauty to it. Jerusalem has plenty of gathering spaces where people can people-watch, interact with one another socially, and find common interests. Pedestrians malls do not exist in Amman.

Reading is a leisure class activity. I realized how much fun I had taking out my book and reading while sipping a cup of coffee. Others were doing the same. It meant that we trusted our environment.

Self-care and self-respect are important. It means you will typically be well-dressed and well-groomed. Self-respect also means you respect the needs of others. Many people in Jerusalem enjoy healthy life-styles and healthy living is promoted. Many of the people are tall. There is a sense of good health and good care for self.

The desert is a harsh climate. It affects the way of life dramatically in Jordan. The Bedouin style of life is more present than I realized. It is foreign and isolating to me.

Jordanians are functional and practical, which lessens their need to develop aesthetic interests. I need an artistic culture around me. I realize that I feel restricted in Amman. As pastor, I am always defining boundaries. Better boundaries are established in Jerusalem, but as pastor I am always explaining and reinforcing in a language that is not the first language of any but a handful. On these days off in the past few days, I realize I am relaxing.

I have come to realize that people like to dress in strange costumes - mostly black and white. Identity seems key. Many Jews wear traditional clothing; the same for conservative Catholics and Muslims. An ancient dress seems to make people feel comfortable in retaining an outward identity.

Me. I like bright colors.

I like what Jerusalem offers. I realize I need the intangible that it offers whereas in Amman I have to struggle at creating an environment that is satisfying. I realize just how much I do without. I do not take this rest and relaxation time for granted.

After lunch, Jose Maria and I walked to the Israel Museum. We passed Independence park, walked through a forest with a Greek monastery at is southern base, and passed the Knesset. We arrived to attend the exhibition of King Herod's Tomb, but it does not open until February 13th. We had a coffee and made our way back. He had been there a number of times before. I will save it for when I have someone with whom I can tour the city.

At the end of the day, I am physically tired. I feel a little down for a number of reasons. A new day will perk me up, but I have much to bring into prayer this evening. I'm grateful for my day. I'm grateful for the time with Jose Maria and with Tony and Doan. A cup of tea will revive me and all will be well.

To see photos of my day, click on the link below:

1. Pics of A Walk to the Israel Museum
2. Pics of Being At Ben Yahuda

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

More Old City excursions

After a light breakfast, I took a walk with Fr. Jose Maria to the Old City. He is a very nice guy. He's a Basque who is the Rector of the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. He spent most of his Jesuit life in Bilbao at the Jesuit University as Rector, Dean, and professor. He came for the graduation of the students who are at the PBI in Jerusalem, where they study Hebrew and archeology.

Our sojourn led us directly to the Western Wall of the Temple. At the wall, men and women were separated - a common tradition in both Judaism and Islam. I guess it is the same in the Western world. The women worship in churches; the men must go somewhere else.

Heads must be covered when at the Western Wall. At the end of prayer, strict Jews will walk backwards so they do not turn away from the face of the wall. Prayers are recited according to a formula and personal prayers are written on paper and stuffed into the walls. As we were there early, the place was not mobbed with pilgrims or Jews. Mostly, the stricter Jews are the ones who come to the  Wall.

A courtyard now exists where Arab houses once stood. Wealthy families, mostly from Canada and the U.S., have purchased property facing the wall to provide for philanthropic services. Jose Maria and I talked about the wonder and mess of having three religions very close in common origin finding themselves irreconcilably separated because of more than religious issues. We also chuckled at some of the practices of Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

From there, we peered at the southern courtyard that leads to the Dung Gate. It is now being spruced up and maintained. It will be a nice park system when it is finished. We then overlooked the City of David, which is to the south. The pool is Siloam and the Kidron Valley are there. Once the place was only occupied by Arab houses, but now large scale buildings are erected overlooking the city. Some Arab houses have been torn down and they will not be rebuilt. It is easy to see that the land around the Old City will be developed in the next twenty years.

Arabs and Jews have little interaction. They do not acknowledge one another.

We passed by Peter in Gallicantu church. We thought about excavating the grounds to see if we can find relics of the rooster that crowed before Peter denied Jesus. It is a beautiful church.

Some of the claims by the locals are incredulous, but they make for good local lore.

We climbed Mount Zion and then went to Dormition Abbey. Well, first we were obliged to see the tomb of King David, which was not extraordinary. It is in the same building as the Cenacle where Jesus had his Passover Supper. The whole place is surrounded by Jewish images and the Cenacle is downplayed.

The Abbey was beautiful. From its artistic entrance to the crypt chapel, we were impressed. It was a serene place to prayer. The upper chapel had many famous images, but the floor was impressive. It listed the 12 months of the year, the 12 disciples, the major prophets, and the four most important ones. All of history was meant to testify to Mary's Queenship. For all its brilliance, it remained understated.

The lower chapel has a place of repose for Mary. The side altars were eclectic in style as Mary was represented in many images. It was quiet and was a place of prayer. Even the leaders of the Ivory Coast dedicated a side altar to Mary.

Later in the day, we saw the place of the Virgin's birth at the place where St. Anne lived.

After passing through the Armenian Quarter, Jose Maria departed and I continued on towards Damascus Gate. I passed through the Muslim section and wanted to eat a falafel. Later I had a tasty coffee at the new Mamilla Mall. Very nice.

I went to Ecce Homo and walked the Via Dolorosa. I saw the place of imprisonment of Jesus and the various stations of the cross. A man from New Jersey was lost so I showed him to the Holy Sepulcher church that he was trying to find.

During lunch, professors joined us for a graduation ceremony and buffet for the semester. Exams are next week, but the graduation precedes the exams. The salmon was refreshing to eat. Dessert was the condensed milk dessert that is popular in Jordan. It is called something like Saklem.

Jose Maria and I then took an afternoon walk to the place of the Flagellation that is run by the Franciscans. He wanted to meet up with a friend. After walking to the Lion's Gate and viewing the Arab cemetery, we headed back towards Damascus Gate and then down through town.

We supped and then had a nice scotch. He invited me to Rome and I am willing to spend some time there.

Another Jesuit invited me to help out with a formation program in mid-April. That will be fun to do. It was a good day. I must have walked 12 miles though. I'll catch up on some emails and then retire.

To see photos of snow, click on the link below:

1. Pics of the Western Wall
2. Pics of King David's City
3. Pics of Peter in Gallicantu
4. Pics of the Cenacle and King David's Tomb
5. Pics of The Dormition Abbey.
6. Pics of The Old City.
7. Pics of The Grounds of the Jesuit Residence.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Old City

After lunch today, I walked to the Old City. My goal was not to do sight-seeing, but to take a few photos. The sun was low in the sky and it was a good range of light to take photos.

I marveled at the changes that took place since I was here in 2000. I don't remember the sleek trains in front of the old city. I recall remarking to a Jesuit friend at the time that the buildings near the Jesuit Residence are quite attractive. I could see it as the beginning of urban renewal. Wow. Did that come true.

The residences have begun upgraded and the system of parks is just beautiful. It beckons people to get outside and enjoy their city. Everything fits together so well. A new outdoor pedestrian mall for high end customers (not me) runs parallel to the Old City. It incorporates all the old buildings that have existed for a long time.

In some ways, the blatancy of the markets would tear up the heart of Jesus again. Old churches are almost like museums. When you walk out of them, you enter into a courtyard with the latest fashion in clothing and fine restaurants. Quickly, one can lose the feel of the sacred as one steps into a market district. The shops are finely built and they create real-time social networking. I had mixed feelings. I was impressed and at the same time repulsed.

All the cross-ways and road are world class. It is a sharp energetic city. It is on the move. Aside from any religious affiliation, many people would want to live in such a beautiful city on its own merits.

I was about to turn back just as I was at the entrance to the Old City, but then I wanted to photograph something. One vendor accosted me and begged me to come into his shop. I refused and he begged. I refused again and he begged. I told him O.K as long as he understands that I will not buy anything. I told him I just wanted to take a few photographs and then go home for a nap.

He fed me coffee and showed me very high quality Persian rugs. He introduced me to his family and he made me offers on products. I told him I was not ready to buy anything and that he is wasting his time. We chatted. He told him how bad business was for the past two months and he just opened his new location, but the bad news of conflict send tourists scurrying away. Would I please buy something so he could make one sale today. I reminded him on my earlier word. I told him he has fine merchandise (because he does), but that I am not interested in purchasing anything. He was very pleasant and then he tried to sell me tours. He would take me around all of Israel at a price we could negotiate. I agreed to take his phone number if I was inclined to take a tour. And so I left.

The minute I walked out of his store, which was in a great location, another vendor sold me his story. He let me take photos from his rooftop because he owns a hostel plus two stores. He hasn't made a sale in two weeks and he will have cancer surgery in another week. After tea and more conversation and a plodding sales job, I reminded him that I was not in the market to buy anything.

I felt like I was consoling these merchants and asking them to keep their spirits up. Lent is around the corner and many pilgrims will make their way to Jerusalem. After all, it is the dead of winter.

I went through the Old City and I heard similar stories from many vendors. I passed by so many. One guy asked me to draw him a sign for his new store. He wanted at least one sale in the day to boost his confidence in his new store. I told him I don't buy things for that reason, but I encouraged him to persevere.

Sadly, a look of desperation fell upon many of their faces. Truth be told: They are wealthy compared to most Jordanians. I realize the economy is bad for them at this moment, but they have to live on a longer-term basis.

I was assumed that priest stoles were sold. I was in the Christian Quarter and that meant an increase of incense and religious goods. I then happened through a doorway that led to the Holy Sepulcher. I spent a good while inside and stayed away from the crowds, even though this is not the busy time. Monks were staging a liturgy that moved from room to room. They sang well.

When I left the tomb, it was getting dark. I walked along that new pedestrian mall, which ran a great length, and then I returned home.

I had drinks with some interesting chaps - a Vietnamese, Spaniard, Pole, Indian, Czech, and an American. The stories I heard were amazing. One guy was imprisoned for 8 years when the communists took over. Another was the president of the Augustinian for Patristics Studies. Each had amazing tales and I was glad to sit and chat with them. The conversation was easy and inspiring. I've had a good start to my trip.

To see photos of snow, click on the link below:

1. Pics of Walking back to the Jes. Res.
2. Pics of The Holy Sepulchre
3. Pics of Rooftop views of East Jerusalem
4. Pics of The Old City
5. Pics of The Grounds of the Jesuit Residence.


I left for Jerusalem this morning. The ride to the King Hussein (Allenby) bridge was very smooth. As we arrived near to the Dead Sea, I was surprise to see how verdant the valley was. I was remarking to myself that we Jesuits have a privilege of life few others have. I was driven the the bridge by our cook, who was more than happy to be of service. When I realize what others have to do to get to the bridge, especially for the first time, it can be daunting. I was pretty much cared for as I made my way through the Jordanian side of the bridge. I was shown the way to customs clearing and mostly all of it went smoothly. We did wait an hour, but I spoke with a Catholic Ammanian who lives with an American woman. They both are searching for a Catholic parish. Voila!

While we were waiting three Jordanian employees were sitting in the room. One was short and rotund and very jolly. Another was attractive and healthy looking and a third was a middle-age woman wrapped from toe to toe.

An elderly Palestinian walked in, asked for the location of the toilets, and went to the men's room. The woman employee burst into in rip-roaring laughter. She thought it was so funny. I gave the Palestinian woman a curious eye glance and the woman employee could not stop laughing.

The jolly Jordanian started singing Bedouin songs and he didn't stop. The woman employee started moving to his music so I got up, took her hand, and spun her around with a few dance steps. She could not contain herself.

The jolly Jordanian starting singing more loudly and when he paused, I interjected by singing, "Lake Chargoggagoggmanchaugagoggchabunagungamaug." They looked at me so strangely and burst into more laughter. They couldn't believe I could utter something so foreign to them.

After waiting an hour for a 3 kilometer bus trip across the bridge, the Israeli processing went quite smoothly. Everyone seemed happy.

I met a tour group of Catholics from Australia. Most were from Queensland. I could distinguish the accent and I asked them if they thought they could find some Vegemite in Jerusalem. Most said they hoped not to find it and they thought it was curious that an American would enjoy it. I'll search for it here - with faint hopes. I told them that one nice image I had of Australia was an abundance of schnitzel.

The bus ride to Damascus gate was pleasant. The people on it were very friendly and helpful. A Frenchman was only going to spend a few hours in the city before returning to Amman. Another Jordanian had the most pleasant eyes. He really wanted to be kind and helpful to people. He moved with grace. The bus was non-smoking.

Israel is really built up. Settlements are on the edge of the desert and it is markedly different from Jordan. Green is everywhere and the sidewalks are cared for well. I felt like I was in a city like New York City. Jerusalem is a large municipality that has distinct neighborhoods and all the amenities of life. Jordan is more austere. It is normal to see restaurants and pubs. I noticed how much more comfortable I felt being in Jerusalem.

The people were very friendly. I asked for directions to the King David Hotel and people went out of their way to help me. Most had a glint in their eye as it they love life. I like seeing that.

The people are well dressed and well groomed. Jordanians saunters, but Israelis are fast-paced walkers with a place to go. I don't want to compare, but there are striking differences. People are sitting out in cafes, walking dogs, reading in parks, enjoying life. I need to see this often enough because I'm not yet experiencing it in Amman. It is invigorating to be here. There's old and new and I can't wait to start my adventures.

I was warmly welcomed by the Jesuit community. For the luncheon, we had schnitzel. I wonder if the Australians called ahead. The welcome was tremendous. After writing this and taking a little shut eye, I'll open my eyes with the camera.

The cook is best friends with our cook in Amman. The housekeeping staff was asking about certain priests who were once in Amman. They asked about one particular man's health. They said they were worried for him because he was "fat." Then he corrected himself and apologized for using an offensive word. He replaced it with "gross." I laughed.

So far, so good. I am happy. I met some very nice people today. I like to be around happy people.

Monday, January 14, 2013


Tomorrow, the Jesuit Center goes smoke-free. Previously, no smoking was allowed indoors, but many people would stand out on the deck with the door open and the smoke would filter back into the Center. Smoking will not be allowed on the premises at all. Smokers will have to leave the building and smoke on the sidewalks. This will be a big test for many.

Patrolling the area will be a challenge. Many people who come regularly to the Jesuit will abide by the policy, but there are many who come in off-hours and that is not controllable. Oh, well. If we are 85% of the way there, it will be rather effective.

I'm very pleased with the respect many have given the policy. I believe that one day, Jordan will join the smoke-less ranks. Why? The people are respectful. I imagine in places in the downtown areas, store owners won't pay much attention to the regulations, but restaurants and hotels will offer smoke-free sections or a non-smoking policy.

Years ago, Amman passed laws restricting smoking, but no one followed it. I think as more and more places announce their restrictions, it will happen. It is still some years off, but it will come. I hope there are health plans and ways to help people stop smoking for their own health benefits. Smokers ought not to be treated as pariahs. It is difficult to quit. There isn't a sense that cigarette smoking causes ill health effects. When a person dies of lung cancer, it is not because they smoke cigarettes, it is because they had a cough that developed into something else. Many don't see the causal relationship.

I saw a new label on a pack of cigarettes from a priest-friend of mine. It said "Cigarettes kill." Right now there are bold signs on the packs, but I'm told that graphic images will soon appear on them.

Nevertheless, it will be an interesting venture to see.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

A Mansion

After my first mass today I had lunch at the house of a choir member. She is the domestic worker for the owner, who is a businessman that runs a restaurant in the city. It was just like a Hollywood house with Arab flare.

The gated building was immaculately constructed. Even the driveway was elegant. When I passed through the garage to the mudroom, I had a view of the magnificent swimming pool. It looked like a lush garden of Eden. The grounds were superbly kept. Grass was abundant and it looked like a tropical garden.

When I entered the house, I thought it was quite lovely. It was very large for there were two main sitting areas before one arrived at the dining room. However, from there, there was another two-thirds of the house to see. There were four more seating areas, plus a smoking room, a piano room, and another lounge. I felt like I was walking through a museum. Everything was tastefully decorated.

I did not go upstairs, but the second floor was the same footprint as the ground floor. The kitchen was huge and extremely modern. I would love to cook there. Our meal was very tasty and nicely prepared.

I'm sure many other houses are similar to this one, but it was amazing to see. I generally see more modest houses. One of the nice things the wealthy can buy is space. Space makes a person feel free.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Baby, It's Cold Outside

Actually, during the day it is not all that cold as the sun warms up the land rather well, but this past week has been mighty cold inside the house. The houses in Amman are built with stone. There is no insulation for them so heat escapes quickly. The floors, where rugs are absent, just emit coldness to our feet. Brrr.

All this week we've endured cold temperatures with each day getting colder. The heat does not kick on until 8 a.m., but I am up out of bed wel before that time to get ready to say Mass. I've not wanted to get out from underneath the covers.

The Director of the Jesuit Center came in today and he was both alarmed and cold. He turned the heat on to stay on continuously instead of by timer. I have been blessing him all day. He even turned on the heat to my office. Bless his soul. We have been trying to save money because oil prices have risen a great deal.

Once the heat was on, I took a two hour nap before noon today. I think my body just relaxed.

We were used to being one of God's Frozen Chosen at Mass, but it was a welcome relief to have a baseline of warm air to move around. It actually felt much warmer outside.

Mass at Sweifeih was fun today. It always is, but it is a nice mix of Arabs, Europeans, Indians, North Americans, Australians, Filipino, and other nationalities. The choir and I rehearsed some nice songs that really fit the Baptism today. The choir has come along so well in such a short time. We'll soon be caught up with the new liturgical language.

We did the Sprinkling Rite at Mass. It really is something else to be so close to the Jordan River and to speak about it in the readings. I can imagine John's disciples not ready to give up on John as the Messiah, but John, in his grace, is able to exit the stage easily. I always pray that when it is my turn to step off the stage in my senior years, I can do it with such grace.

I am praying for everyone who has the flu and the norovirus. I know it is particularly severe this year. We have both in Jordan as well as the H1N1 virus. I know very many people who are sick from the flu and colds.

I use a technique to keep my nostrils moist at night by dabbing a little bit of Vaseline at the base of my nostrils. When the nostrils are moist, they are healthy and are much more able to fight off colds and flus. I especially use them on airplanes where every advantage you can take to be healthy is a plus.

How is this? A friend of mine is in the Dominican Republic for a meeting. He was talking with a new member who was in an NGO in Amman until recently and he had good things to say about the new Jesuit priest in Amman. What a small world.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

In the Bleak Mid-winter

These are the days I want to read again Robert Frost's poem, "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening."

I awoke this morning and noticed something very different: I did not hear a sound outside. I realized I slept very well. I guess Gloucester and Douglas are still deep within me. The outside market of al-Abdali was eerily quiet. No cars nor busses nor a single pedestrian could be heard. The snow blanketed the area so much that the area looked very nice. I felt serene inside. I am a high sensate and I guess that applies to me when I am sleeping as well.

The snow is wet and heavy. It won't be around past tomorrow, but it is chilly outside. It shut down the government offices and taxi drivers don't like to drive in this. Car horns are not blaring these past days.

I realized for the first time in my life I have a parking space with a cover. I don't have to clear off my car in order to use it.

I went to the rooftop this morning to shoot a few cityscapes. It raised a question for me. Are you the type of person who looks at the virgin snow and wants to be the first one to trample on it? Or are you the sort of person who respects its pristine qualities and wants to leave it intact for others t see and behold?

Once I finally stepped onto the freshly fallen snow, I walked to the edge of the roof to shoot the Orthodox church steeples and the Blue Mosque's dome covered in snow. I took out my camera very gingerly because I was near the edge and I didn't want to slip and break my camera lens. I went down with a thud. It hurt. I banged my elbow something terribly, but I held my arm steady so my camera would not break. My arm is recovering, but I'll feel this for a few days.

The other day, Fr. Michael and I went up the the rooftop during the howling wind. I pointed out that the plexiglass from the round table lifted itself off the table and fell on the ground. I said, "That could be dangerous." Well, I slipped on the same plexiglass and fell hard. Do we, in a sense, choose our own fate?

I was entranced by the beautiful shot I would take. I gave no consideration that plexiglass could possibly be hidden by snow cover.

We have friends from a different culture visiting us. It is in the ordinary events that we see our differences. We are building a 2,000 piece jigsaw puzzle with the image of the Sistine Chapel. I have to pace myself because I am good at puzzles. I do them too quickly for others to join in the great fun. On this puzzle, I self-imposed a restriction of 5 pieces a day.

To get around this dilemma, I was helping one of our guests find the straight edge of the puzzle so there could be a framework for doing the interior work. I would find pieces that obviously fit together and I would place them side-by-side closely enough where you could see they snap together perfectly. Some were obvious; others less so. They were left as a suggestion. This person knew my intent was not to put the pieces together but to hunt for the straight-edged pieces. After leaving those pieces there and watching my guest do the puzzle, I was surprised that most of the pieces were left unassembled. This person was diligently working on the frame.

I would find some of the straight-edged pieces that were sorted out, a great number of them actually, placed back into the jumble of the interior pieces. A couple of remarked about it and one of the Jesuits illustrated that this is a difference in culture as people approach time and space in very different ways. I find this practical application interesting to reflect upon. It makes me wonder how buildings and roads are constructed. People and cultures have different techniques. Perhaps they work just as well as a Western mindset.

It makes me wonder what mindset is needed when a missionary inculturates into a different world.  It is not right to give up one's formative aspects, but it is helpful to expand the notion of what is possible.

To see photos of snow, click on the link below:
1. Pics of January 9th snow
2. Pics of January 10th snow in garden and construction site
3. Pics of a car-less al Abdali
4. Pics of a snow covered evening at the Jesuit Center Jordan
5. Pics of snow covered picnic area.
6. Pics of rooftop cityscapes.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Snow, Snow, Snow, Snow

It is here!

They said it would come. I believed them, but I have been anticipating its advent. I put on some Christmas music and just sat to watch it slowly fall down from the sky. This is the Christmas moment for which I have been waiting. It is peaceful. Everyone has stayed home. The government workers were ordered to take the day off. It is simply peaceful. The instrumental music in the background has made the day just right. If it hangs around, I'll take a few photographs after lunch, but right now I'm content just letting it fall and letting myself be.

It is wonderful. I am happy.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


The rain is pounding against my office windows. It is actually kind of frightening as if hail is in the rain. It sounds like it is gushing and pounding at the same time. The wind swirls violently too. I'm glad my windows are sealed without leakages.

One thing that is odd to me here in Amman: I cannot do anything by myself. If I try to sweep the floor because I moved the flower vase and petals fell to the floor, the housekeeper gets upset because she takes pride in her work. She won't let me finish. I'm used to cleaning up after myself.

Also, if I use pots and pans in the kitchen and the cook comes in, he'll please beg me to let him wash the dirtied cookware. It feels odd to me.

I don't want the housekeeper to come into my office because she will take every piece of paper and place it into one pile so it is nice and neat. Since she doesn't read English, I can't leave a note for her to tell her not to move the paper that is on my keyboard. All gets neatly organized and I have to spend a great deal of time separating them out.

I know they have pride in their work and I respect that. I'm just used to chipping in. There's no reason why we can't help out one another. In a place that lacks boundaries, many are tightly held in areas where you don't want them to be.

The same goes with the priesthood here. The priest cannot bring his plate or left-overs to the kitchen to be respectively cleaned or put away. Someone else must carry it because the priest ought not have to do that. If I'm walking to my car, someone comes running over to carry my bag or alb when I don't need help. Many people do this with many things. The priest is high above them and ought not to be involved in menial tasks.

This is not my style of priesthood. I like equality. I like enabling people to do what they did not think was in their realm before. For instance, if someone has never read or sung before, I encourage them to break out of their comfort zone and give it a shot. I like to be a priest who serves people - especially here in Amman when people have difficult lives. If a domestic worker spends her day cooking and cleaning, then why not let them sit back a bit and be served by others - just to give them a little comfort.

My more (I hope) liberated style of priesthood confronts an older model of power imbalance. For the most part, I'm not into power struggles - not deliberately, at least. I want people to assume the right type of responsibility and to help them navigate through the illusions that are often set up. Nothing is perfect, but I would like to be more of a companion and partner on the journey than an exalted one. We are all in this mess together. Let's also find the beauty together. Let's reach for our potential and celebrate our successes.

Rain, Rain

I stand alone. I love the rain we are getting.

We have another day of steady rain. I'm told by many that this type of rain is unheard of in these parts. Fr. Al, who has been here for 10 years, says that he has never seen rain like this before. I'm thrilled. This place needs rain like this each month. It is very dry here and the land would look vastly different with even five more inches of rain throughout the year.

The infrastructure does not support rain like this. Since it rains infrequently, the architects decided not to build any run-off drains. Therefore, roads are flooded. The lack of drainage means that valuable water is not collected in cisterns as it was in the old days. Water seepage does not occur because there are not roots or soil to hold the moisture. With a concerted effort, the scarce resources could be saved much more efficiently. It is too bad the costs are cut for the sake of winning a contract. Standards and policies would help the country develop better economically.

Flooding occurred in many tunnels and people fear driving in this weather. Snow is forecast for tonight as the temperatures will drop. I had no place to go today so it felt like a snow-day in New England. The winds remained fierce, but the honking of horns on the roadways ceased. Yeah! It was a quiet day.

Fr. Al left for the United States today. The airplane took off before the high winds came. I like the return trip to the U.S. because you can arrive on the same day you depart.

I've had a productive two days. I completed the Holy Week Schedule and the Winter Bulletin. Masses through early June are arranged.

Can't wait for tomorrow. I'll take photos of Amman with snow on the ground. I don't have my cross-country skis with me though.

Monday, January 7, 2013

What a hoot!

What a hoot! Howling winds last night battered Amman as it ushered in a cold front. The wind tore apart aluminum siding from garages and fences and the noise was louder than the mating cats of yesterweek. (That's a new word I made up.)

This morning it rained quite heavily. I am actually vacillating between enjoying myself and feeling sympathy for drivers as they pass by the Jesuit Center. I had thoughts of helping some of them, but then I figured they were doing fine on their own. It makes me realize the fragile state of many cars that pass on the roads. There are no inspections here so safety and emissions are not a concern to the people of the Kingdom. As it is later in the day, the roads are becoming more sparse because people are leaving work early. Snow is forecast forecast for Tuesday night into Wednesday. Weather reports call this a blizzard, but I have always thought snow was associated with blizzards.

I saw this one many in sneakers pushing his car up the hill while six inches of water runoff buried his feet. His car must have stalled in the water as he sped up the hill. He was about 3 inches away from hitting a parked car when he jumped inside his own and backed into a parking spot.

Last night, reports of traffic fatalities dominated the news.

Several drivers have stalled while friends come by with jumper cables to get them going again. However, they park where they can and they often block busy driveways. Most people stayed in - just like a snow day. Some reported hail this morning. Many are driving slowly and cautiously. Would that it would rain every day.

Our morning guests were delayed for over an hour because of the rain. It gets into peoples' psyche. They walked to see us as they live about one tenth of a mile away from us.

Meanwhile, I packed all my Christmas decorations. Now I have to find a place to store them.

On a different note, yesterday we had an interesting discussion of how some animal waste is used to flavor foods, especially to give an earthy or smoky flavor to certain breads. Camel and goat is particularly favored. It is still done in many rural areas and sometimes it is used as a type of cooking fuel. Enough said.

Ah, the winds have died down enough for swallows and finches to return to their perches.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

An uneventful day

It rained today. Everyone stayed off the roads. Back home, we would call it a shower, but few here like to drive in the rain. That's good for me.

When I left church today, a car was parked in the driveway of the parking lot. Right in the center of the lane. No one could come in or leave. The image that I conjure up is that he meant to park the car, but another thought popped into his mind and he stopped and got out. This other woman was befuddled by his behavior, but after she talked with me she settled down. Sometimes people just have to express their anger. This guy's parking job seemed selfish to her and perplexing. This is Jordan. Lots of things don't make sense here.

I stopped by the women's clothing store that we visited the other day. I simply intended to say hello to the man who offered me coffee and a woman's dress. He wasn't in and his associate spoke as little English as I speak Arabic.

Time for a change with the choirs. One is really struggling with the fundamentals. The other group is open. They have talent and a great attitude. I'll give more to the group that says "yes" and that will free up some time. We'll come back to the other group later.

I seem to find myself dancing at Arabic parties. I don't understand a single word they are singing, but I find myself just grooving with the rhythm. The beats, sounds, and everything are so foreign to me. It is far different from Western music. There are so many parties around and I just can't eat all that is offered. I nibbled today and I stopped eating sweets today. I think I am dancing because everyone else seems so motionless. Just like tonight, I sit at parties where I can't communicate with anyone but somehow we laugh and make gestures to show acceptance and appreciate for one another.

I stopped by the music store today and was able to price a few items. I now have a working keyboard and I have two students for lessons. I better start learning it myself first. I feel like a first year teacher because I am staying one step ahead of them. Just one step. I am honest with them that I don't play, but they are excited to have the chance to learn something so fun.

We have so much activity around the Center - guests, dinners, visitors, construction, celebrations. Most of it is done in Arabic. When it gets too loud, an introvert likes me retreats to his room. I've watched a couple of movies, "The Nightmare before Christmas" and "The Odd Life of Timothy Green." I also watched an old "Inspector Morse" show. I have always liked John Thaw's acting. He is curious as a mellow, melancholy detective. Quite the opposite from "Midsomer Murders."

Otherwise, I am allowing my heart to be touched each day by the people around me. One pedestrian gave me a very warm hand to heart signal when I was pulling out of the driveway. His smile was deeply sincere. Then, as I was traveling down the narrow two-way road, I slowed down and moved over and proceeded gingerly. The man in the other car was very caring that we each had enough room to safely pass. He gave me a warm Jordanian sign too. It changes my whole day around. I remember such goodness even as I fall asleep. Funny, even though they drive horribly, I am no longer seeing them as aggressive drivers. Something else is going on, but it is calling me to be a more compassionate driver (if that makes sense.) These are good people behind the wheel of their car and they have rich stories of goodness and suffering carried with them. I want to let all that stuff emerge.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Can't Catch a Breath

Life in Jordan has been very busy these past few days. I spent my day off replying to emails, but when I was nearing the end, I wanted to go to the music store to check out keyboards. Mind you, I can't play yet. I can pluck notes.

I invited our Jamaican guests to come see a different part of the city with me. They admired the way Middle Easterners are very meticulous about individually wrapping their sweets with silver, golds, reds and blues. We went into shops with colorful pastries and rich chocolates, but every place we entered, the guests were too full to eat anything.

I went into the music store and felt very rushed. The guy wanted to give me the information, but not engage me. We left rather quickly and I obtained the information I sought.

Afterwards, the guests went into this women's shop where nice traditional Islamic gowns were sold. The cuts of the gowns are made in such a way that they are to be pinned in the back if a woman wants to show her shape. Our guest inquired into one dress and when the merchant brought a small out for her, she kept saying, "It is too large." They went at it for a while - not communicating well at all. It was fun to watch. The merchant was in disbelief because he brought the smallest gown and he was trying to explain that he will tailor it.

Finally, a Bahrainian intervened because he spoke both languages well. By this time, our guest was not going to buy a thing because frustration levels were high. The Bahrainian asked where I was from and I replied the States. He told me he was going there next week to visit a billionaire friend in Los Angeles for three weeks. After a bit of conversation, he asked me about my work, to which I replied, "I'm the pastor of the English-speaking Catholic church." That was the end of the conversation. No further word was exchanged. It was obvious to him that I was not a man of any worth because I live in poverty. He was certainly above my social circle. It was fun to watch.

However, the owner of the place came rushing over and yelled, "Abouna, come have coffee with me!" I told him next time as we were ready to leave. He said, "That day won't come," and I replied, "It will. I'll be back to the Music store in a week." He said I must stop by, and then he added, "I respect Abounas. They have such a good heart. Goodness keeps coming out deeply from  their hearts. Please honor me and come back. You have a good heart."

I melted and I told him I would return, but I didn't feel I was as good as the Abounas he has encountered. It gave me something deep upon which to reflect. Even my minutest actions are picked up by others.

It certainly demonstrated the "Two Standards" of the Spiritual Exercises. The wealth of one man is attractive, but the warm respect from the owner is much more attractive. I enjoyed his goodness and the warm his heart was moved.

He shouted out, "When you next come in, the first item you want to buy is free for you." His heart was so good and his offer genuine, but I really have no need for an Islamic woman's gown.

I then took our guests to the Taj Mall, the newest of Amman's malls. It is mostly smoke-free and I wanted to show them that part of Amman is very westernized and has a cutting edge to it. They enjoyed it, and then I showed them the downtown area, which is very Islamic. It is poor and most of the shops are filled with cheap quality items, but one can get a good bargain there. We each had a hot milk drink with cinnamon and coconut. They didn't like it at first because it wasn't too sugary, which is the reason I liked it, but as they walked down the cool streets with the warm mug in their hands, they thought the experience was good. We passed by dark alleys with lots of shopkeepers who were closing up for the night. It was good to see both the low-end and the high-end of Amman.

They we went to Jebel Amman and strolled down Rainbow Street past the Ammonite chic shops and coffee houses. It is like Boston's Newbury Street - in a Jordanian way. It was a full night.

I wasn't able to sleep until 4 a.m. and I woke up late because of it. When I got going, my day did not stop. I collected a donated 61 key keyboard for choir use. I have to get a plug for it before I can use it. I was played only once. When I went to collect it, it took 2 hours. I had to enjoy some Bailey's Irish Cream, some cookies, tea, and fruitcake.

When I was able to leave to go to my next place, I was invited to have cookies, fruitcake, Campari with soda, tea, and chips. The house of this German woman was nicely decorated and it was in a very pleasant section of town. I was not able to eat another thing.

I had to leave to return to the Jesuit Center to have dinner. Just what I needed. The Bishop was attending a dinner for the parish council of one of the churches where I say Mass. Since we were the host, I thought it wise to stick my face in there. I had lovely conversations with parishioners who are neighbors. I just cannot get over the goodness I am finding in so many people.

I want to try to be a better person because they are making me into a better person. They have such kindness and want to be around a priest who has a good heart. They are doing something good to me.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Twenty-Six and Beyond

A friend of mine has been contemplating how best to be an agent of positive transformation in the culture. After the massacre at Sandy Hook elementary a journalist suggested a practice of doing at last one kind thing a day for 26 days (for each person killed)-like donating to a homeless person on the street, paying for coffee for the person behind you in a coffee line, etc. She took up this practice and thought "why just 26 days?" Why not continue that practice daily to bring more light and kindness into the world? She will continue that. It also makes her more alert to needs around her day to day and it is very simple.

I will follow her good example.